Thursday, April 18, 2013

Beauty Is In The Eye Of My Children

A few nights ago at supper, the kids were talking about their day at school.  Sweet Potato was sharing about his reading class.

Me:  I think your reading teacher is really pretty.
Sweet Potato:  Did you know she is four years older than you?

At this point, the conversation carried on as if I wasn't even in the room, let alone sitting at the dinner table with all of my Love Bugs.

Gummi:  No way.  Mom looks waaaaay older than your teacher.
Sweet Potato:  Seriously.  Mom is younger than her.
Cucumber:  But mom has so many wrinkles.
Honey Bunches:  No she doesn't.  Look at her.  He points his finger at me.
Gummi:  Well look at her eyes.  She's got lots of wrinkles around her eyes.
Honey Bunches:  I don't think it's alot, just a little.
Sweet Pea:  Mommy's pretty when she wears makeup.
Pumpkin:  Yup and when she wears her church clothes.

At this point, I decided to interject a story.

In my first parish ministry job, I was only 23 years old.  I wasn't that much older than some of the students. One of the first nights we had Religious Education, I was greeting the students as they entered church.  There were a couple of teenage boys who were lagging behind everyone else.  As the two of them approached, I said hello.  Then one of the boys said, "Hey.  We're going to ditch tonight and go to the Dairy Queen.  Do you want to go with us?"  His friend, standing behind him, slapped the back of his head and said, "Dude.  She's like the principal lady."

At this my children just sat and stared at me.

Sweet Potato:  My teacher still looks younger than you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Monsignor: Part II

My first few months as DRE were overwhelming and extremely educational.  My responsibilities included coordinating religious education for grades K-12, Sacramental Prep, RCIA, Liturgical Ministers training and Liturgical Environment.  Sprinkle on top a little youth ministry and that was my job in a nutshell.  I was terrified to face these new challenges; mainly because I lacked confidence in myself and believed I didn't possess enough knowledge of the faith to pass it onto others.

This was also the first time in my life that I was alone.  I was living in my own apartment, by myself, away from my family and many of my friends.  I was working in a new place where I didn't know anyone.  It was a very lonely time for me.  Fr. O'Shea sensed my uneasiness and invited me to dinner at his home one evening. After a delicious meal of pork loin (I came to learn that it was one of his specialties) and roasted asparagus, Father had a talk with me.  He shared how difficult of an adjustment it was when he moved from Ireland to Duluth.  He missed his family and his country, but he knew this is where God had called him to be.  He encouraged me to allow myself six months to really get adjusted to all the changes in my life.  He also said, "If you never give new opportunities a chance, then you'll find yourself living in the 'what-ifs' and 'could-have-beens' of the past."  He then took his scottie dog, Schnapps, for a walk while I cleaned up the kitchen.

I took Father's advice to heart and threw my energies into learning all I could about working in parish ministry and really studying my faith.  I knew I was in a good place when I began talking about "next year" and all the things I would like to see implemented.  I was loving my job.

Fr. O'Shea was very much like a second dad to me.  He was concerned where I was living and if it was safe enough for me.  He often asked if I was taking care of my vehicle and remembering to get the oil changed.  He wanted to know if I was doing o.k. financially and able to keep up with my bills.  He would bring me food, always saying he had made too much the night before and didn't want to see it go to waste.  I also had my fair share of frustrations with the man.  I didn't always like some of his policies; thinking them unreasonable, and I didn't always heed the advice he gave me, but overall, I felt blessed to be working for a fair and honest boss, who loved the priesthood and truly lived his faith.

I can't even begin to share all the lessons Fr. O'Shea taught me.  He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.  He would say, "Do the job I hired you to do.  That's why you're here!"  He taught me that a good leader isn't necessarily the person who comes up with an answer the quickest.  Wisdom isn't rushed,  but can be found in the processing.  So he would advise me to go home, pour myself a glass of red wine, get a good nights rest and see how things looked in the morning.  He taught me to find truth and to not apologize for it.  Father did not sugar-coat anything, for he believed that would be a disservice to others.  People deserved to hear the honest truth.  Father also taught me to not take life too seriously.  It is important to make time for fun and to laugh everyday.  His quick Irish wit and prankster ways had us laughing daily in the office.  It was everything from incensing the office and closing the door when he knew our secretary did not like the smell of incense, to hiking up his pant legs when he suspected I was going to cry over something (preparing for the flood gates to open).  Yes, he had a great sense of humor.

The most significant lesson Fr. O'Shea taught me has to do with the question he posed in my interview.  How do I resolve my own personal conflict with the Church?  I learned that the Church has a 2000 year history, which deserves my respect.  Within this history is a plethora of wisdom.  Our history does not reflect perfection, but it does reflect faithfulness.  If I don't agree with a Church teaching, then I have the obligation to educate myself on why the Church teaches what she does.  To not do that is a sign of arrogance.  It is to say that I know more than the culmination of those who have gone before me.
"There are not over 100 people in the U.S. that hate the Catholic Church, there are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which of course is quite a different thing."  Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Fr. O'Shea was not just my boss.  He was my beloved priest, by confessor, my care-taker, and my teacher. I credit him for assisting me in uncovering the deep love I have for Christ and for His church.  My parents planted the seed of faith many years ago and nurtured it throughout my life.  They were my first educators of the faith.  Fr. O'Shea comes second, only to them, in my catechesis.  I resigned from my position at the church in 2000.  Saying good-bye to Fr. O'Shea remains one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

Fr. O'Shea was named Monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI on December 21, 2005.  It was an appointment that he humbly accepted.

After a series of health issues, Monsignor O'Shea passed away at age 80 on April 4, 2013.

Before Monsignor died, he asked a fellow Irish priest to say the homily at his funeral Mass.  Fr. O'Donnell shared the following story:

The Bishop and the Monsignor were planning a visit to the Catholic grade school.  Sister, wanting to impress the Bishop, was busily preparing her class for the visit.  The day arrived and the Bishop and Monsignor walked into the classroom.  The Bishop asked the children, "What is a miter?"  The children replied, "It is what the Bishop wears on his head."  "Very Good," the Bishop replied.  He then asked, "What is a crosier?" Once again, the children replied with the correct answer, "It is the staff you carry in your hand."  "Excellent" the Bishop applauded.  The Bishop finally asked, "What is a Monsignor?"  One little boy responded, "It is the cross you wear around your neck."

This joke was shared in true Irish fashion.  All of us in the congregation laughed, and no doubt, Monsignor O'Shea was laughing right along with us.

Thank you Monsignor for your wit, wisdom, love, faith and witness.  You are missed and loved.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Monsignor: Part I

In the spring of '95, I was looking forward to graduating from college. I would soon be signing a one year commitment to serve with a Catholic Service Corps in the greater Hartford area.  My life was going along as I had planned and the future possibilities were exciting.  Then one afternoon, while sitting in my campus apartment, the telephone rang and a thick Irish accented voice on the other end said, "Hello. My name is Fr. O'Shea and I would like to speak with you for a few moments."  As it turned out, he was the pastor of a near-by Catholic church.  Recently, the Director of Religious Education had resigned and he was looking to fill that position.  He explained that my name had been given to him as someone who could possibly fit that need.  "Can we schedule an interview then?" he asked.

Me:  Um, excuse me Father, but how did you get my name?
Fr:  Our current DRE met you a few years ago and she remembered your name and said you were going to school for Religious Studies.

I had met this woman in 1993.  I was volunteering at a Catholic church down the street from campus and was asked to chaperon a group of young people to the upcoming World Youth Day in Denver.  This woman was a chaperon from another church, but we rode the same bus.  We would run into each other on occasion after that trip.

Me:  Thank you Father for your call, but I am not looking for a job at this time.  I plan on moving out east after graduation.  I responded very confidently and proudly.
Father:  Well then you just take a few days and think about it and I'll give you a call back.

Then he hung up the phone.

Was I not clear in telling him that I was not interested in an interview?  Why on earth would he then call me back?

He didn't call back in a few days, he actually called back the next day.

Father:  Did you have a chance to think about our conversation yesterday?
Me:  Yes Father, but I plan on moving to Hartford in a couple of months.  
Father:  Why don't you take a drive out our way and see the parish.  We could then visit a bit.

Why wasn't he getting the hint?  I did not want to work in parish ministry.  So the next thing I did was to call my mom.  I explained to her the unusual conversations I was having with this very stubborn priest.  In my mother's wisdom, she asked, "Do you think this could be a calling from God for your life?  I know you have your heart set on Connecticut, but maybe you need to pray about this situation.  If nothing else, go for the visit and gain some experience in interviewing."

The next afternoon, Fr. O'Shea called again (persistent bugger isn't he?).  We decided that I would come the next day to meet with him and tour the parish.

I drove to what seemed like the middle of no-where.  Fr. O'Shea greeted me at the door and had me follow him to a conference room.  There sat the current DRE.  So the three of us visited for a short time.  Father wanted to know a little about me; where I was originally from, who my family was, etc.  Then he asked, "if you disagree with the Church on any issue, how do you resolve that?"


I did not prepare a response for that question!

I have no recollection on how I answered him, and yet I remember that question so well.  Somehow I muddled through the remainder of the interview and then the DRE gave me a quick tour of the church.  I left feeling relieved that it was over and I could get back to my life.

A few days later, Fr. O'Shea called and offered me the position.  A bit stunned and a little speechless, I told him I would like a few days to think about it.  He replied, "take all the time you need."

And then he called me the next day.

And the next.

Feeling very confused about what to do, I got on my knees and prayed and then turned to my family for guidance.  My parents and my siblings all felt I should take the job.  What truly helped me make my decision was the advice my mom gave me.  She said that just because I accept a position, doesn't mean that I agree to have it for life.  She told me to give it a year, and if I was truly miserable, then I could move home for the summer and commit to the Service Corps the following fall.

Then next time Father called I had my answer for him.  I accepted the position as DRE and would begin my year in August.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Easter Streaker

The last professional photograph we had taken of our family was over 3 years ago and it was for our parish directory.  Pumpkin was about 3 months old and Sweet Potato was 6 years old.  Go ahead.  Do the math.  That would be six Love Bugs in six years.  No, we were not crazy and yes, we do understand how that happened.

Sorry, I digress.

A few years ago, while we were at my sister's house for Easter, my mom suggested that we take a few family photos since we were all dressed up.  The stairway seemed to be the best place for all of us, and thus a new family tradition was established:  Easter family photos on the steps.

Some years, the kids cooperate with ease.  However, there have been other years where we have experienced tears and tantrums.  There was even one year where one of the kids was in the "potty-training" stage and had an accident.  Not wanting her to be the only one in jeans, we forced her to sit for the photo-shoot, wet dress and all.

Each year, after Easter Sunday Mass, in the van on the way to my sisters, the kids get lectured about taking this family picture.  I explain how I expect them to sit still and smile nicely.  I beg them to refrain from giving their siblings bunny ears and to keep their hands to themselves.  I am ashamed to admit that in the past we have stooped to bribery.  I may even guilt them by saying, "this is the one chance to have a nice picture of all of us.  Remember, it will hang on our wall for a whole year!"

This year was no exception.  I was busy lecturing and the kids were busy tuning me out.  To really drive my picture taking points home, I said;

Me:  I don't care what is going on around you, please keep your eyes on the camera.  Even if Uncle Buddy walks by naked, DO NOT TURN YOUR ATTENTION AWAY FROM THE CAMERA!  

Yes, in hindsight, it was a total parental faux pas.

Conversational chaos ensued.

Gummi:  Ew!  I do not want to see Uncle Buddy naked.
Sweet Pea: (laughing)  Uncle Buddy naked.  That's so funny!
Pumpkin:  Yeah.  Uncle Buddy is going to be naked.
Sweet Potato:  Wait.  Uncle Buddy will be naked?  I don't think that's o.k.
Me:  No, no.  I'm just saying. . .
Cucumber:  Will anyone else be naked?
Me:  No.  No one will be naked.  My point is to just focus on getting our picture taken.
Gummi:  Well I'm leaving if he's naked.

We arrived at my sisters and proceeded to our places on the steps.  While my nephew and niece were snapping pictures of us, Uncle Buddy walked by, fully clothed and completely unaware of the conversation that had preceded.

That is, until, Pumpkin ran up to her uncle, busting us all by asking, "Uncle Buddy?  Why you wearing clothes?  Mom said you would be naked."

Life with kids.  It's a humbling experience.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Holy Week Review

Well, Lent has come and gone and we have now entered into the Easter season.  I feel as if the last week was a bit of a whirl wind.  I made a personal commitment to attend Mass everyday until Easter Sunday.  There are so many distractions in my life and I desired to give my attention to Jesus and His Passion.  Mass helped me to focus each and everyday on what Holy Week is all about.  We began with Palm Sunday.

Gummi and Miss Jessica weaving palm branches after Mass.

Another project during the day was creating this "tomb."  
Monday and Tuesday the kids still had school.  Each day began with Mass, which I had the opportunity to attend.  I love going to the school Masses.  I am always moved by the beautiful faith of our young people.

On Wednesday, the daily Mass was celebrated at our local nursing home.  It was a lovely sunny and "warmer-than-it-has-been" day, so the Love Bugs and I decided to walk.  We gathered in a small room with five of the residents, two volunteers, Father, Grandma and the 7 of us.  The Gospel that day was from Matthew and told of Judas Iscariot.  In his homily, Father shared that we look at Judas as selling out Jesus.  30 pieces of silver would be equivalent to about $800 today.  That is not a huge sum of money, so why did Judas really betray Jesus?  Father asked us to reflect on our own lives.  How do we "sell" Jesus out?  What are we hungry for?  What are we searching for?  Shouldn't Jesus be enough?

The start of the Triduum was Holy Thursday.  When I woke up that morning, this is what I found.

Our tomb had sprouts.  

During the day, the girls made Easter symbols out of salt dough.

Thursday evening we traveled back to the church affiliated with the kids school.  The Liturgy, the music, the symbolism, the Tradition;  I loved it all.

We attended Good Friday Service at Silly's church, where she and her husband sing in the choir (the music was gorgeous!).  It was a two hour service and I was really proud of how well the Love Bugs handled it.  On the way home, the boys rode with Monkey Toes and I had the girls in the van.  Our conversation went as follows:

Gummi:  Did you like church tonight Mom?
Me:  I loved it.  I even cried a few times.
Gummi:  I cried too.
Me:  At what part?
Gummi:  When we kissed the cross.  When did you cry?
Me:  At the very beginning when Father and the Deacon laid prostrate and then again when we venerated the cross.
Cucumber:  I cried when we read the Gospel and Jesus died.
Sweet Pea:  I didn't cry.
Me:  That's O.K.  Sweet Pea.  You don't have to cry at church.
Pumpkin:  Well I cried.
At her remark, we all gushed over the thought of Pumpkin being so moved by the service.

Me:  At what part did you cry Pumpkin?
Pumpkin:  When church got too long!

Saturday we celebrated Easter with Monkey's side of the family.  It was a fun get-together with good food and great company.  Grandma and I attended the Easter Vigil that night.  It has been more than a few years since I have attended the Vigil.  I forgot just how rich and layered with meaning it is.  We began in complete darkness, hearing the account of creation.  We heard of Abraham's faith and complete trust in God and continued to hear of Moses and the Israelites escaping from Egypt.  We read from Romans and the promise that we shall be united with Christ in His Resurrection; death has no power over us.  And finally, the Resurrection account was proclaimed from the Gospel of Luke.  We sang Alleluia for the first time in 46 days.

On Easter Sunday, the first thing I did was to check on the "tomb."

Look at that grass!  The kids were completely amazed.
Mass was simply joyful!  The colors, the flowers, the music filled with rejoicing - it was truly a celebration!

Next, we were off to my sisters to spend the day with my side of the family.

Here, Auntie is giving instructions to the Amazing Race scavenger hunt.  The kids had to complete certain tasks/skills in order to get clues to where the treats were hidden.
Our annual Easter Family Picture - always taken on these steps.

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to immerse myself into the recollections and celebrations of Holy Week.  Each day brought a time of reflection and a renewed sense of hope.  I awaited Easter in great anticipation.  And now, in the Resurrection, we are a changed people.  For me, this Easter Season challenges me to be a witness to those I meet, if not through word, then definitely through action and example.  

Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, 
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, 
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, 
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.                                                      1 Corinthians 5:6-8